Roundtable Review: Collapse Under the Empire – Sacrifice & Isolation

Postrockstar is no stranger to Collapse Under the Empire and you probably shouldn’t be either. The post-rock powerhouse duo from Germany have released either an album or EP in each year dating back to 2009 show no signs of letting up. ‘Sacrifice & Isolation’ is their fifth studio album an is the follow up to  2011’s ‘Shoulders & Giants’ as  a two-part conceptual series. We’ve gone ahead and taken the album to task in this month’s roundtable to see if it could stand up to C.U.T.E’s track record of quality.

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With each new installment from Collapse Under The Empire we see these small little changes that have led us to ‘Sacrifice & Isolation’. The raw potential C.U.T.E always possessed has slowly and precisely been smelted into a finely crafted musical object. The production values and mixing process have steadily increased, the way they write songs ever so slightly refined to perfection. The soundscapes they create have gone from these small glimpses of environments into fully fleshed out musical realms of bleakness meets glimmer of hope. Make no mistake about it, this is the new high watermark for C.U.T.E. Like every album that has come before it, their latest work is so blatantly obvious their best work.

‘Sacrifice & Isolation’ is their fourth album and follow up to 2011’s ‘Shoulder & Giants’ as a conceptual effort. Sure there was a couple releases in between those albums, but pay no attention to them. Well, pay lots of attention to them, but right now we’re focusing on the culmination of a three-year musical journey for C.U.T.E. This album is massive in-depth and sound staging, but you probably already knew that if you were at all familiar with their work (and at this point you better be). ‘Massif’ shines as a Massif high point to the album (see what I did there?) while tracks like the title tracks as well as ‘A Broken Silence’ are just more C.U.T.E classics that fall in line with what I’ve come to love and expect from the band.

The deep synths playing ever so lovingly with distant swirling crescendos, the beats that utilize both live and electronic drives, the bleak overtones, the shimmering moments of desperation, the overbearing distress, They’re all here. It might all be a bit formulamatic at times, but like your favorite 1 AM comfort food from Dennys, you keep coming back for more because it just feels so damn right. And while I certainly don’t need carbs or deserts in my life anymore, the idea of being a post-rock enthusiast and not having Collapse Under the Empire in regular rotation is simply unfathomable. Another C.U.T.E classic, a must listen of 2014 and without question an album that earns a well deserved spot on my year end lists. – James

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https://i2.wp.com/i.imgur.com/ONcH7LM.jpgJames may like this album but, unlike him, I didn’t follow this band since their beginnings. I have a hard time getting into this primarily because of the thing James likes the most – The synth. It felt like some sort of 90’s movie trailer on the opening track  and it just never goes away. Every time I expect the band to go all-out-heavy-crescendo-whatever, it suddenly loses its thrill when the synth can’t keep up with the grunge. The keyboard can’t sound very gloomy when it’s practically identical to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. I may be exaggerating, but that accursed keyboard is the only thing holding me back from loving this album as a brilliant, dark, and brooding piece of post-rock.

As for the rest of it, everything sounds like it’s recorded professionally, and I certainly love their sense of structure and composition. I was falling in love with the intro for ‘Lost’ with its almost industrial-sounding drums. The bassist is no slouch, no matter what’s going on. And the way they build up is well done, even if I don’t care for it. If they went in a more 65daysofstatic sort of direction, or even a sleepmakeswaves direction, I’d be much more content with this, but it has too little electronica for me to feel like it’s supposed to be there. I picture in my head the discomfort the rest of the band members go through when they try to tell the keyboardist that he doesn’t quite fit. So they just let him do his own thing, and essentially play on top of him. – Foofer

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This review comes from somebody who is a new listener to Collapse Under The Empire. By new I actually mean I’ve never really given them the time of day. Every track I have heard has been good, but none have pushed me to go out and listen to this band. So I somewhat reluctantly sat down to give their newest offering, Sacrifice & Isolation a spin.

Sacrifice opens the album and basically delivers what should be a favourite track. The melodies are wonderful; the EDM style build-ups are really well executed, and managing to maintain interest around the same motif for 8 minutes is pretty impressive. However it has not really done anything for me. I find it lifeless, somehow dull. Isolation, if anything, is worse. A meandering bore-athon that has basically caused me to switch off to the rest of the album on more than one occasion. The album proceeds in much the same way. Massif has a promising intro, but fits back into the mold of the previous track. Lost does the same, find a motif, play around with it for a bit with the same tired dynamics and techniques, finish the track.

I love this sort of music because it makes me feel something, unfortunately this doesn’t stir my emotions really. I think the production feels too clinical and robotic. It does not feel like there are two human beings behind it and that is a big turn off for me. Then we have track 5, Awakening. Holy shit! It has taken nearly half the album but here is something that makes me sit up and take interest. Parts rise and fall, tension mounts and then disappears without resolution, you are kept on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next. Shame it just had to end, I really wanted it to go on and on.

From here on the album definitely picks up. The main reason is that there is an improvement in the dynamics that takes away from the clinical feeling of the production. Check out the album highlight, Stairs to the Redemption. The drumming and heavy guitar chords are a welcome relief to what has come before. The subdued track that follows, What The Heart Craves For, has some delay heavy noise elements that I really like. The Path is another great track that rises and falls with uplifting movements, as you would expect and possible tire of from myriad post-rock bands. In this context it is incredibly welcome.

I am going to make a grand assumption that this is probably not their greatest work and if a massive fan of their work disagrees then I think that generally C.U.T.E. are not for me. There are some really great tracks on the album though; it is a shame I had to trawl through the first half to find them.  Must listen: Stairs to the Redemption, The Path   – TenaciousListening

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Within the genre (and sub-genres) of post-rock, there aren’t really a lot of standout bands. Now, I don’t mean that as a way to say there aren’t many good bands, because obviously there are tons. What I mean is that in a musical style that’s defined in great part by usage of instruments only, it’s very hard to set yourself apart. There are countless numbers of bands doing the whole “cinematic” sound, and I like a great deal of them. Problem is, a lot of them sound very, very similar (well, maybe it’s not a problem, but you know what I mean). There’s a small handful of bands that, in my opinion, are doing something different, something that makes them stand out a little. That, to me, is the mark of a really great band. Explosions in the Sky does it, Godspeed You! Black Emperor & Sigur Ros do it, and if you ask me, Collapse Under the Empire does it.

Jumping back to the turntable.fm days, there were times where there wasn’t a lot of chatting going on, if there were just a couple of us in the room listening to tunes while we worked. Without fail, any time a C.U.T.E. song came on, you knew it was them. There was no question. In a sea of bands that are either trying blatantly to sound like other bands, or bands that not only wear their influences on their sleeves, but make a whole shirt of them, it’s a welcome change. As James said in far more eloquent terms than I can at the moment, this is a band that has been constantly evolving since day one, and well, the proof is in the pudding here. While I wouldn’t be so brazen as to say that this is leaps and bounds beyond previous material, it’s definitely a positive, and natural feeling, progression.

Where other bands do the “pretty but sad” thing, and do it well, C.U.T.E. is one of the few that can (appropriately enough, given the title of this album) really make the feeling of isolation sonically possible. Where other bands do “sad scene with snowfall”, they do “everything and everyone I love is gone”. Rather than the sense of loss from a doomed romance or something of that ilk, this is the soundtrack to the terror of abandonment, of being completely and utterly alone. There are moments of hope present, of starting anew (or “freedom”, as the band themselves have stated), but overall, it’s a dark and lonely record. The beauty crafted out of these feelings is palpable, and, like James, I suspect strongly that this will have a solid place on my year-end list. If i have one bone to pick with this album, it’s the intro to “A Broken Silence”. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the music, and just sound like the music from an 8-bit boss fight scene to me. Other than that rather small gripe, I think these two German lads have created something truly fantastic. – ShaneXedge

   

Roundtable Review: Those Amongst Us Are Wolves – This State is Conscious

Welcome back to another monthly installment of Roundtable Review. This month we have a real special treat for all of our readers as we are breaking down and dissecting Those Amongst Us Are Wolves’ latest effort ‘This State Is Concious’, the follow-up to their 2013 album ‘Chaotic Love Stories and Irrational Behaviour’.  TAUAW have been big supporters of our site for quite awhile now and likewise we are big supporters of them and their brand of unique post-rock, so it was really quite a no-brainer for us to choose ‘This State Is Conscious’ as a candidate for a Roundtable. Without further ado..

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At first listen it is easy to draw a number of different opinions about ‘This State is Conscious’. This album is a vast and intricate web of unique and differing influences and styles all culled into one giant post-rock cauldron. My original perception of the album was that even though I felt the band really poured their heart into perfecting this record, in doing so they had put too many different flavors (layers) in the pot. Each song was so distinctly different from one another, full of curious nuances and sounds from different genres and well hell, different cultures of music as well. As I continued listening several times through, I realized that wasn’t the case. Sure, the synergy between the four tracks isn’t particularly great, but the blend of layers featured in each particular song synergize so well with one another that it never really occurred to me just how much sound the band jampacked into these 40 minutes until I started breaking songs down layer by layer.

With “How to Level Water” the band chose to open the record with inviting and very listener friendly third wave (I believe the kids these days just call it “pretty”) post-rock in the vein of Lights & Motion. As the track evolves it becomes easy to forget that the main focal point of this track is the spotlighted cello work that lasts until right before the shift from pretty to a dark toned. Moving forward the album immediately shifts styles and picks up with the monstrous prog-rock presence of “At The End Of The Scene, The Walls Are Black And She Is Gone, And He Is Alone.” Originally I thought this track oozed influence from fellow U.K. band Crippled Black Phoenix, but after conversing with band members I uncovered that wasn’t the case. The keys in this track are the real highlight, shining and headlining the song from nearly start to finish. The center of the track gives us a brief keyboard interlude in an Asian/Mandarin theme amidst a backdrop of ambience,  a nice touch that leads into a reprisal of the intro while maintaining the same musical theme.

“Placebo Affects” is one of the most insanely creative musical mindfucks I’ve ever experienced. So the first time I heard this track, I immediately dismissed it as filler leading up to the grand finale. It’s very easy to do that considering how this album is structured. I can now tell you with 100% certainty that this is my favorite song on the album by a landslide. The psychedelic and space age-like intro really throws you for a loop at first, so it’s best to just let it set the mood and not over analyze it while the cascading sounds swirl around your head. The song shortly evolves into a grooving and downtempo yet proper post-rock jam. Then something outright ridiculous happens. A Horn section that would make any Ska band jealous spawns out of seemingly nowhere and captures the ears. Focus on it too much and you could easily miss the rattling guitar layers or even better, the bluesy bass line being laid down in the underbelly of the mix. Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, the guys go back to that big band prog-rock sound I spoke of earlier as the number comes to a close. This song simply takes these massive steps of radical change and does so without missing a beat. Who would have ever imagined a Ska horn section, a bluesy bass-line and post-rock guitar layers playing into one another so perfectly? The brilliance will surely be unappreciated by anyone without trained ears.

I suppose “He Is The King of The Tenuous Link” will be most perceived as a the band’s magnum opus effort, as it sits at 20 minutes, or half the album’s length. My biggest criticism I have with this track is that they could have easily done this song in 13 or 15 minutes and the 20 minute mark seems a bit artificially inflated. The copious amounts of ambiance is nice, but it really brings the mood down to a level where I felt like I was just waiting for the next big moment, and not in a good build up kind of way. However, from around 12:20 onward is when the real finale begins as the guys unleash an all out post-rock assault for next few minutes. Keys, bass and drumming come together to form a really tight build up leading to giant explosion of layers that all come crashing down in the mix. Guitar work here is easily the best on the album with an extremely tight, occasionally gritty sound that slowly envelops everything else around it.

It’s safe to say that one play through isn’t enough to appreciate what Those Amongst Us Are Wolves have accomplished here. ‘This State is Conscious’ was well worth the wait and well worth the price of admission. There is a little bit of something for everyone in this album. – James

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Song craft and structure are part and parcel to what makes good third wave post rock for me. If it’s lacking, things are flat and uninteresting, even when played by the most skilled musicians. That happens a good deal when you listen to as much stuff as we do here at PRS. This all too common downfall is in no way evident here, as TAUAW have summoned a very compelling handful of songs on This State Is Conscious.

 Surprisingly synthy in parts, I enjoyed the interplay between electronic and organic instrumentation. The atmospheres created by the electronics lend a thickness that enhances the handsome melodicism of the guitar and the very well rounded bass work.

 I had a slight issue with the drumming at times. There are a couple of places where the timing is off just enough to jar one out of revere. That coupled with the generics of the kickdrum sound (although it is a solid sound) left me wondering what was programmed and what was recorded from a live kit. The actual drum lines are inventive and propulsive when they need to be. I’m just nitpicky about sonics.

 While the last track, “He is the King of Tenuous Links” is the obvious opus on this album, and is truly a tour de force of segues and interlocking song craft, my favorite moments are in “At The End Of The Scene, The Walls Are Black And She Is Gone, And He Is Alone.” It is so well conceived and deceivingly complex. The combination of the atmospheric ambient sections and the hammered dulcimer just lit up my brain.

 All in all I quite enjoyed every piece and look forward to more. Erich

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“This State Is Conscious” has everything I want in a post-rock album. Soothing and mellow ambience, blistering passages through musical fire, a strong variation of instrumentation, and a chance to hear every member shine through at one point or another. This is one of those albums I can’t stand to listen to very often because I can’t find anything wrong with it. I have no complaints. I have nothing to think about this album, other than how much I enjoy it so thoroughly. It goes right up there with Yndi Halda’s Self-Titled album, and Caspian’s ‘Waking Season’. Just… too perfect.

That being said, don’t let me deter you from enjoying this album. The places it takes you and the stories it tells are things you shouldn’t miss out on. I mean, how many of you have listened to a post-rock album with a hammered dulcimer in it? In fact, when was the last time you heard the words ‘Hammered Dulcimer’? This is something unique, and should be at least appreciated, if not cherished.

My one and only complaint is the last song being a whopping twenty minutes long. When a song gets that long, I have a hard time avoiding any mental separation after the music dies down and picks up with a different feeling or instrument. It just kinda makes sense to split it into two or even three songs when it reaches a certain length. There are some exceptions to this like some Godspeed You! Black Emperor pieces, where they’re trying for a certain theme or telling a story. I don’t really get that feeling with this album.

Regardless, I become enthralled with the music to the point that I forget about my complaints when the album is over. JUST LISTEN TO IT ALREADY, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD. – Foofer

   

tags: rock electronica instrumental noise post-rock space rock trip hop Coventry

Before The Eyewall – Before the Eyewall

This record has been out for a while, and we’ve promoted it on the site before. I just feel like it needs a proper review to do it justice.

Before The Eyewall’s full length debut is a raging monolith. This Ohio three piece not only know how to build up a track, they know how to deliver the sludgy heavy goods like god’s own fist thrust into the sun. I find it kind of amazing that a band capable of such nuanced introductions and intermissions can slam down the doom so hard. I had to turn my subwoofer down! The psych influences here are just evident enough to balance out all the brash ball-stomping gnarl. Quieter moments fit right in, fleshing out the Gollum of rock.

These guys aren’t new to music, and BTE itself has been going on since 2010. They are road tested and seasoned. Post metal is always a crapshoot, but this is quality to the extreme. Songs flow well into one another, and the riffs are there, but there’s no overindulgence, just raw, intuitive song.

Production is more then decent. There’s a lot going on once in a while, but it sounds like everything can be translated (with the help of a looper at least) to a live environment. The guitar has just the right heft to keep it on the right side of overly chunky, while the bass is limber when clean, and a gorilla when fuzzed. The drums get a little buried once in a while, tonally, but the percussiveness and punch are still like kicks from inside a fog.

I am of the mind that this is well worth listening to for anyone into heavier post rock/post metal, or doom, sludge, and all those other bullshit names. The bottom line is that this is a straight up great debut. Do not sleep on Before The Eyewall.